The Meaning of Life in Two Words
May 22, 2012
Beyond food and shelter, people of all ages have two core emotional needs: connection and meaning. We want close personal relationships while we’re on this planet, and we want to make a contribution that outlasts our stay on it.
Our deepest desire is to make a difference, and our darkest fear is that we won’t. The need for belonging and significance transcends age, culture, sex, race and socioeconomic status.
Connection and meaning are simple concepts, yet the full context of their meaning is huge. We connect through relationships, and we make meaning through accomplishment. They’re forever intertwined around each other in the dance of human life.
Connecting makes life more meaningful, and accomplishments shared with others are more satisfying than those we achieve alone. Meaningful accomplishment goes beyond just doing things; it’s about creating things, like art, or a family, or a community.
Your life’s “work” (whether it be paid, unpaid or both) is your legacy. And whether you do it with your hands, your head or your heart, the meaning you get out of it is in direct proportion to the meaning you put into it.
That’s where the conflict comes in.
The biggest challenge most of us face in accomplishing our life’s work are all those other crazy humans trying to do same thing. They plague us with their unrelenting demands, they don’t love us the way we’d like, and they insist on bringing their own quirks and ideas into every situation.
If only they would see things our way, then we could really get something done.
Who hasn’t found themselves thinking, “This project would go quicker if so and so weren’t involved?” I confess, I’ve actually found myself thinking, “I’m trying to create a happy family, but my kids and husband keep messing it up.” Irony noted.
Alas, such is the nature of the human ego. Our soul wants to be part of something bigger than ourselves, yet our ego tells us that all those other people are standing in our way.
Enter the cheap, no-work, pop culture solutions: TV and shopping. We can connect, we can create, and we don’t have to put up with real people at all.
Craving better personal relationships? No need to converse with your real family. Modern Family is much more interesting. Sure, they have quirks, but nothing a few witty one-liners won’t solve.
The beauty and the curse of television is that it satisfies our desire for intimacy without any real emotional investment on our part. Want the satisfaction of a meaningful accomplishment? Forget toiling over a multi-department project or a community garden. With one click of your mouse, you can have new patio furniture or a fabulous wardrobe today. TV fulfills our need for connection and consumerism feeds off our need for creative accomplishment.
Look, I’m no Earth Mother. I’ve got a closet full of shoes and I can recite the words to the Brady Bunchsong by heart. But I also know that the connection and meaning we crave can’t be found in pop culture solutions.
The path to lasting happiness is never easy. It takes mental discipline to turn away from the quick fixes being marketed to the masses. And it takes patience to make emotional investments in the people around you.
But TV and shopping aren’t cheap substitutes for the real thing. They’re expensive ones, and you deserve the real deal.
Connection and meaning. It’s really that simple. And it’s really that hard.
(c) Lisa Earle McLeod
Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces.
She the author of The Triangle of Truth, which the Washington Post named as a “Top Five Book for Leaders.”